Our Opinion: TV station nonsense angers more than just Patriots fans

While technology has moved to the point where a television viewer is capable of streaming live channels from, say, Germany or China, some of the quaint old traditions from the dawn of television refuse to die. For example, with the advent of cable and satellite providers, broadcast television has devolved into a relatively minor transmission medium, yet Berkshire County — as far as the FCC is concerned — remains a kind of vestigial bump attached to the Albany television market.

Call it the Panhandle Syndrome. Berkshire County isn't the only region that finds itself closer to some other state's capital than its own, thereby trapping it in an alien TV world. Counties in far western Oklahoma and northern Texas, for example, get their broadcast TV from Denver.

But Berkshire County is an integral part of Massachusetts, and its political, current affairs and cultural interests lie with its own state. For decades, the Berkshires have fought to free themselves from New York's suffocating broadcast embrace. Back when a pair of rabbit ears were the only way to pick up a signal, it made sense that a viewership area — a shape that was generally circular — might include a section of Massachusetts that encroached the way a thumb does into an eyeball.

Last March, though, Berkshires cable provider Charter Spectrum, which includes merging Time Warner cable customers, removed Springfield NBC affiliate WWLP from its lineup without explanation. The move leaves the Berkshires with a perfectly good NBC affiliate, WNYT in Albany — except that its coverage and interests have nothing to do with the Berkshires. FCC regulations dictate that a cable network only needs to provide local broadcast television signals, and as far as the feds are concerned, WNYT is still "local."

It is insulting and injurious to Berkshire County viewers that while there are a variety of TV stations covering the capital of New York State only one, WCVB-Channel 5, covers our own state capital from a base in Boston. This preposterous state of affairs is particularly galling during election years — like the one looming that features a race for governor.

However, the cruelest cut of all for Berkshire sports fans is that — with the loss of the Springfield signal — they have been effectively barred from watching their beloved Patriots' preseason games. This situation arose Thursday night to the consternation of locals (see letter this page).

This is the 21st century, and one of Massachusetts' U.S. senators, Ed Markey, is a proven authority on federal communications regulations since his time as a congressman. Surely some snippet of legislation requiring providers to service "orphan" areas like the Berkshires could be tucked into a communications bill without much ado. Whatever the remedy, we urge our elected officials in Washington, with whatever help can be offered by our Berkshire legislation delegation, to find and implement it.


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